Analysis of Iowa air quality reveals positive and negative trends


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Industrial greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and manufacturers contribute to climate change (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 4, 2018

A new analysis of federal air quality data reveals mixed trends in Iowa’s air quality. On one hand, Iowa cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. On the other, Iowa ranks among the top 20 U.S. states for industrial greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions.

Analysts from the Center for Public Integrity studied EPA data from 2010 to 2014.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register that since 2014 emissions have trended downwards, according to data from their own monitoring stations and facilities.

The Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions dropped  11 percent, from over 60 million metric tons in 2014 to about 54.7 metric tons in 2014. This cut is over five times greater than the 2 percent national average, according to the Register.

Iowa still ranks 19th for industrial emissions, however. Ten Iowa utility or manufacturing companies were among the nation’s top 500 sources of greenhouse gases in 2014.  Four of those were MidAmerican coal plants.  Since 2014, Iowa utilities have made major investments in renewable energy, particularly wind.

Iowa ranks even higher for toxic air emissions: 17th in the U.S.. From 2010 to 2014, toxic air emissions in Iowa actually increased. The Register found that Climax Molybdenum, a chemical plant in Fort Madison, and four others were responsible for half of Iowa’s toxic emissions in 2014. The paper said Climax Molybdenum was the 10th largest emitter of ammonia in the nation that year.

 

 

 

New biodiversity practices for the mining industry


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The mining industry provides material for almost everything we need and do. (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | October 3rd, 2018

The mining industry is essential, and it’s not just for coal.

Works globally mine for metals, materials, and salt, all basic elements needed to create and build almost everything in our infrastructure. But mining can come with severe environmental consequences if not done safely and properly.

Mining is at the heart of any predicted economic growth, and the renewable energy industry relies heavly on mined materials to succeed.

UN Environment is working with the Convention of Biological Diversity and various mining companies globally to help instill a few guidelines for maintaining a biodiverse environment with an environmentally-conscious atmosphere.

The hope is that, by working together with this convention and with indigenous populations, rigorous regulation of mining companies can help reduce environmental damage from this important industry.

 

Davenport finds alternative ways to combat flooding


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The Mississippi River is a key feature of the Quad Cities. (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | October 2nd, 2018

In the midst of heavy flooding season, Davenport has found alternative ways to deal with the overflow of its Mississippi river.

The Mississippi is one of the largest and longest rivers in the world. In Davenport, this body of water is especially large, several times the width of the Iowa River.

Unlike many communities, Davenport prefers not to barricade the water; the river is a very important part of the city’s identity and residents vehemently protested any possibility of no longer seeing or interacting with the Mississippi. Bike trails, playgrounds, and parks all snake along the river; the Blues Fest and fourth-of-July fireworks are common occurrences. Blocking the view of the river is out of the question for many, so city officials have had to come up with alternative ways to combat flooding.

Many times the responses to floods are last-minute water pumps and road closures. This approach is significantly more time-costly than levees and walls, but residents are grateful for what they get in return: a city that’s opened its arms to green spaces and public events.

Clive, IA: $1.25 million buyout for flooding protection


Kasey Dresser | October 1, 2018

City officials of Clive, IA have approved a buyout for home and business owners affected by the June floods. The buyout will focus on properties affected in Walnut Creek and North Walnut Creek.

“We have dangerous flash floods on Walnut Creek and North Walnut Creek, and the frequency and intensity of that flooding is increasing,” said Clive City Manager Matt McQuillen.  “The properties we’re targeting have been flooded multiple times in the past decade.  In this case, the most effective way to protect lives and property from future loss is to remove the buildings and improve the natural floodplain function.”

City taxes will not be increased to purchase the properties. City council members will continue to discuss flood mitigation and preparedness strategies for the future.

Applications from property owners in the acquisition area must be submitted by November 5, 2018. Additional information about property criteria can be found here or at the City of Clive website.

Farm conservation on the line in 2018 Farm Bill


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At risk USDA conservation programs include provisions to promote sustainable stewardship of forest and pasture on farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | September 28, 2018

Farmers nationwide are waiting anxiously for the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, a crucial piece of legislation that authorizes U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and funding for research in agriculture and food.

The current bill expires Sept. 30. If congress can not settle on a new bill by then, funding for those conservation, nutrition, and rural development programs, among others, could be lost for a time.

A conference committee of both House of Representatives and Senate representatives are currently working out the differences between the draft bills proposed by each chamber in June. The Senate draft is widely regarded as friendlier to conservation.

One of the House’s most controversial proposals is to cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which provides contractual support for people who actively mange agricultural land or forest for conservation on their property.

The House bill proposes folding the CSP’s “best features” into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a similar program that covers some cost for conservation practices on farms.

Critics say this move would eliminate the advanced  conservation practices the CSP promotes, and totally cuts funding for working lands. They believe the CSP is necessary because it allows for long-term conservation efforts, whereas EQIP deals with one-time practice establishments.

Conservation practices like cover cropping and on-farm forestry ease the stress agriculture can put on our natural resources, but they can be expensive for farmers. USDA programs provide critical resources to ensure eco-friendly farms can still turn profit.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy and Natural Association of Conservation Districts are actively advocating for the conference committee to maintain or increase conservation funding in their final version of the bill.

 

 

 

 

Tracking pesticide behavior to protect pollinators


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Beneficial insects, like the bee shown above, can be harmed by chemical pesticides (flickr). 

Julia Poska| September 27, 2018

A recent study from Japan’s Osaka University aims to help protect pollinators from harm by studying how insects metabolize pesticides.

Researchers sliced fruit flies into very thin layers with a special technique developed to keep their delicate features in tact. They used a laser to glean tissue from the layers, which they analyzed to see how Imidacloprid-a, a common agricultural pesticide, spread through the fruit fly bodies.

Imidacloprid-a is one of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which have received a lot of negative attention for being linked to declining bee populations. France recently banned five types of neonicotenoids, including imidacloprid, in an effort to protect pollinators.

Scientific studies have yielded mixed results on the actual effects of neonicotinoids on bees, however. Some have found that bees can get addicted to the nicotine derivatives, and claim they kill. Others say that only certain species are affected, and that concentration levels in the field are insufficient to do real harm.

This report, published in the journal Analytical Sciences, may help bring clarity to the confused issue. It is the first of its kind, due to the exceptional difficulty of  preparing and imaging detailed tissue specimens of fruit flies. The researchers hope others will use their technique to look further into pesticide metabolism in the future.

 

 

 

An analysis of early farming practices


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Farming (cjuneau/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | September 26, 2018

A study from the University of Wisconsin- Madison theorizes how agriculture would have affected the climate without the Industrial Revolution.

According to the Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis, early farming practices produced mass amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Without the presence of the industrial revolution ancient agriculture would have trapped enough methane in the atmosphere to create a similar state of climate change.

The Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis was originally developed by William Ruddiman, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Virginia 15 years earlier. The climate reconstructions are based on ice core data. Our current geological time frame is called Holocene and the one before is referred to as MIS19. Both time periods started with similar carbon dioxide and methane concentrations based on evidence from ice core data. MIS19 saw a steady drop in greenhouse gasses. The numbers have since spiked to our current state of emissions. The data currently stops at the start of the Industrial Revolution but people are continuing to develop the hypothesis.

Stephen Vavrus, a senior scientist on the project concludes, “science takes you where it takes you,” and “things are so far out of whack now, the last 2,000 years have been outside the natural bounds. We are so far beyond what is natural.”